Monsieur Ibrahim

Monsieur Ibrahim is a nice coming of age story, with the odd couple pairing up the legendary actor Omar Sharif with newcomer Pierre Boulanger. It skirts upon some serious issues, but seems to tackle everything with a laid-back approach, which makes for an unassuming, relaxing movie. It did win the Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes, which is probably stretching things a bit. It this a good movie? Well, sure. However, it is nothing great. It's basically a heartwarming friendship between two people that borders on the edge of bland. What is great is seeing Sharif (The Thirteenth Warrior, The Parole Officer) on screen again after nearly quitting acting altogether after participating in The Thirteenth Warrior. Monsieur Ibrahim is based on the novel Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs de Coran by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.

The film takes place in 1960s Paris in one of the more cramped neighborhoods. Moses (Boulanger) lives in a small apartment with his father (Gilbert Melki, An Amazing Couple, On the Run), who is struggling to make ends meet. He works hard during the day, and expects Moses to have dinner ready for him when he returns home. Moses, just hitting the throes of adolescence, is more interested in taunting his neighbor Myriam (Lola Naymark, Riches, Belles, et Cruelles) and admiring the local hookers. He tries to scrape up enough money and lies about his age to get them to pay attention to him. Ibrahim (Sharif) owns a small store across the street, and Moses goes there constantly to buy food.

Moses, whom Ibrahim calls "Momo," has been going there for years, yet doesn't really know Ibrahim. Ibrahim does notice that Momo steals a little bit here and there, but doesn't seem to mind. In fact, Ibrahim begins striking up a friendship with Momo, who responds because he has no real friends. The two are pretty different; Ibrahim is a Muslim and Momo is Jewish. Their friendship grows deeper and Ibrahim becomes a father figure to Momo, then an unexpected development in Momo's life draws them even closer. Director Francois Dupeyron (Officer's Ward, Don't Make Trouble!) spends most of the film either developing the friendship between the two or showing how lonely and empty Momo's life is.

The substance of this film is the slow and unexpected bonding between the two main characters. Sharif is a seasoned actor, and slips easily into this role. As Ibrahim, he is grandfatherly and kind. He realizes the effect that he is having on the impressionable Momo and manages to teach him a great deal without sounding heavy-handed, and without Momo even realizing it. Boulanger comes off as something of a jerk, but he should, since his character puts up this show to hide his loneliness. There is nothing earth shattering or profound about Monsieur Ibrahim, it's just a small, endearing film that doesn't try to be anything else.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 34 minutes, French with English subtitles, Rated R for some sexual content

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